By Miriam Raftery
June 6, 2013 (Campo) – On Sunday, June 9, the Campo Band of Mission Indians’ general council ( tribal members age 18 and over) will be asked to vote on whether to approve or reject Invenergy’s Shu’luuk Wind Energy project proposed to be built on the reservation, according to a meeting notice and agenda obtained by ECM.
ECM has also obtained a letter sent by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to Robert Eben, Superintendent of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Riverside. The EPA letter raises serious concerns over the project’s Draft Enviornmental Impact Statement (DEIR), concluding that there is “Insufficient information” on impacts of three project versions and that health impacts of noise and low-frequency sound on nearby residents have been ignored.
The EPA voiced particular concerns over noise levels that the project would generate in close proximity (one quarter mile) from homes and concluded, “no feasible mitigation measures are available to reduce noise levels.” The EPA also faulted the draft for ignoring potential health impacts of both noise and low-frequency sound, particularly on children. The EPA noted that the World Health Organization has recommended that continuous noise should not exceed 30 decibels indoors or sleep deprivation can occur.
The project appendix reveals that neighbors off the reservation would be exposed to noise levels over 55 decibels.
The EPA also raised serious concerns over impacts on hawks and eagles, noting that the DEIS predicts “high mortality rates” for raptors and that golden eagle take permits allowing killing of eagles would be needed if the project is approved. Impacts on groundwater and cultural resources of other Native American tribes in the region were also raised by the EPA.
The tribe has refused repeated requests to discuss the proposed 160 MW project, which would include 64 wind turbines , 25 miles of new roads, 52 miles of underground cables, a substation and operations/maintenance facility, and five miles of overhead transmission lines, according to the agenda.
The proposal before the tribe estimates total pre-operations payment to the tribe of nearly $2.9 million, annual payments to the tribe estimated at over $3 million, and estimated total payment to the tribe of $75 million over 25 years. The project is also predicted to create 150 temporary construction jobs and 12 full-time jobs.
But those revenue estimates may have a large catch if they are based on projected energy output. A number of wind projects are producing far less than projected; Ocotillo for example produced at only 19% capacity during its first three months of operation – even before a blade fell off a turbine, shutting down the facility completely in recent weeks.
The tribe would also have an option to purchase a fraction of power from the project after 11 years and the entire project at year 20. That could be more of a liability than an asset, however, since wind turbines are often decommissioned after around 20 years, meaning turbines must be replaced, removed, or abandoned when they cease to function properly.
“There is internal tribal strife over this project with some supporting and others opposing,” Donna Tisdale, chair of the Boulevard Planning Group, told ECM. Some tribal members have shared their concerns directly with ECM – and further, said that they have been threatened with disenrollment from the tribe if they allow additional measurements to be taken at their homes where high levels of stray voltage from the Campo tribe’s existing wind turbines were found. Tribal members have been enrolled in a California State University San Marcos health study to determine whether serious health problems including many cancer cases are related to the high voltage to which they are exposed.
Tisdale has voiced concerns over impacts both on and off the reservation. “The wind industry, government bureaucrats, elected officials, and other decision makers continue to ignore and deny existing evidence and support the siting of turbines too close to hoems and sensitive receptors. There is an unjust government-sponsored bias towards the for-profit wind industry at expense of residents.”
In a letter sent to community members, the Boulevard Planning Group asked why the BIA and Department of Interior never investigated or produced a report to explain why Campo’s Kumeyaay Wind turbines exploded in 2009, requiring replacement of all blades and turbines. The planning group wants to know why health problems of those with cancer are being ignored and who should be responsible for damages.
Invenergy has refused to come to meetings of the Boulevard Planning Group to answer questions at recent hearings.
Invenergy wind projects elsewhere have caused serious harm in communities. People have abandoned their homes due to claims of illness related to turbines at Invenergy’s Forward Wind project in Brownsville, Wisconsin, and High Sheldon Wind in Sheldon, New York.
Similar problems have plagued other turbine makers. In Hardscrabble, New York, 60 homeowners are suing Iberdrola (which plans to build Tule Wind in McCain Valley near Boulevard) and the company’s noise expert for negligence and intentional misrepresentation of facts after the project violated noise decibel levels allowed.
Peer-reviewed studies of Infigen’s Cherry Tree Wind project in Australia found the company “ignored” and failed to address “the actual acoustic impact of the wind farm on the community. “ Similarly, Infigen’s Capital Wind Farm in Australia was found by a peer-reviewed study to generate “audible noise significantly above predicted levels” and that “noise levels validate complaints of significant adverse impacts.”
Boulevard Planning Group’s letter contends that the BIA has failed to comply with federal Indian trust responsibility and the BIA’s mission statement “to enhance the quality of life, to promote economic opportunity, and to carry out the responsibility to protect and improve the trust assets of American Indians…”
The group also accuses Invenergy’s Shu’luuk Wind project website of “misinformation/misrepresentation/false claims” including claims that the project will be in compliance with all applicable noise regulations, will not pose a problem for golden eagles, and that there is no evidence of adverse health effects from sound emitted by wind turbines.
San Diego Rural Fire has also voiced grave concerns over the proposed Shu'luuk Wind project in a letter sent by the district's attorney to the BIA. The district contends its timely registered comments were omitted from key documents. The all-volunteer fire department lacks resources for fighting fires at wind turbines 500 feet tall or so, each with hundreds of gallons of flammable lubricating oil. Firefighters can't fight fires under burning blades, but aerial fire drops won't work at the heights required to clear the towering turbines. The district's Chief Nissan has warned of severe fire danger. Retired Cal Fire Battalion Chief Mark Ostrander has similarly warned that if a fire starts at a wind facility, it could become an firestorm on the scale of the 2003 and 2007 wildfires.